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Assistant Pro­fessor of English Eliz­abeth Fred­ericks is the newest hire in the English department. Eliz­abeth
Fred­ericks | Courtesy

Hillsdale College wel­comed new Assistant Pro­fessor of English Eliz­abeth Fred­ericks to the English department faculty this fall.

Orig­i­nally from southern Cal­i­fornia, Fred­ericks earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Hope College in Michigan. She con­tinued her edu­cation in sem­inary at Regent College in Van­couver, British Columbia. Fred­ericks earned her master’s degree in 20th century British and Irish Lit­er­ature at Durham College in England, and com­pleted her Ph.D. at Baylor Uni­versity in Texas. After teaching at Val­paraiso College in Indiana, Fred­ericks made Hillsdale home.

This semester Fred­ericks is teaching English 340, along with two sec­tions of Great Books II.

“People told me that there was not a strong 20th century British presence and really not nec­es­sarily a strong 20th century Irish one either,” Fred­ericks said. “And so that is def­i­nitely some­thing I want to bring, and so I told my 340 stu­dents that I love the Vic­to­rians; I think they are so fas­ci­nating, but the 20th century is my home. Someone else might teach this and root it strongly in the Vic­to­rians and then look forward. I am grounding us in the Vic­to­rians and then looking to see, ‘Where do we go?’ The 20th century has the stronger grip on me. I love it. It’s my play­ground.”

Fred­ericks is par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the way lit­er­ature pro­vides a window into other cul­tures and times, and she hopes to share that enthu­siasm through her classes.

“I love the side of food and culture, that all of our texts aren’t just the book on the desk in front of us, but they came from par­ticular times and places and so finding windows into those is exciting,” Fred­ericks said.

Fred­ericks will bring her own flair to the Great Books classes as well, par­tic­u­larly through her book list.

“One thing I wanted to do was to just kind of organ­i­cally incor­porate women’s voices, because Great Books I has so few. When we get later in Great Books II, there’s an explosion of women writing, and so I wanted to reflect that in large and small ways.”

One of Fred­ericks’ 105 stu­dents, sophomore Parker Thayer, com­mented on her inter­esting book list and exciting teaching style.

“Dr. Fred­ericks seems like she will be a great pro­fessor; she’s extremely enthu­si­astic and ener­getic,” Thayer said. “One of the hall­marks of her teaching style seems to be inviting student response rather than lec­turing. If nobody is brave enough to answer a question, she will wait you out instead of pro­viding an easy way out.”

Aside from giving some cul­tural context to illu­minate the texts, Fred­ericks struc­tures her classes mostly around vibrant dis­cussion, allowing stu­dents to guide their own study of the texts based on what they found intriguing.

“I like for the stu­dents to be talking to each other and working through things without me going, ‘And this is the answer,’” Fred­ericks said. “So I like to be more hands off and just nudge the con­ver­sation in dif­ferent direc­tions according to what I want people to come away with and also to create space for them to raise what they are inter­ested in.”

While this style of teaching can make it more dif­ficult to keep dis­cus­sions on topic Fred­erick enjoys the chal­lenge.

“One thing I like about teaching is the sur­prises,” Fred­ericks said. “And for the stu­dents to feel like it’s their moment, and not one that I con­structed for them, I think makes it a lot more inter­esting for them as well. The classes I was always the most excited by were def­i­nitely the ones that didn’t feel canned, and that had these moments of sort of electric sur­prise.”

Sophomore Katie Ryerson expressed her delight in Fred­ericks’ Great Books II class.

“I love it. She has a lot of energy. She’s excited about what she’s teaching, and she really wants us to look closer at the text and draw our own con­clu­sions,” Ryerson said.

Because dis­cussion-based classes rely so much on student par­tic­i­pation, Fred­ericks has been pleased to find Hillsdale’s student body so eager to join in con­ver­sation.

“There’s only seven people in [Vic­torian and Modern British Lit­er­ature], and still the time just flies by. They aren’t shy,” Fred­ericks said.

Going from Val­paraiso to Hillsdale has meant making some adjust­ments for Fred­ericks.

“Hillsdale is the smallest school I’ve ever taught at, and it’s the smallest town I’ve ever lived in,” she said. “I sort of just picked up and started over in a new place. It helps that I have a dog.”

Fred­ericks’ terrier mix, Char­lotte, has been with her since she was studying for her Ph.D. in Texas.

“Chuck” has aided Fred­ericks not only in adjusting to the move, but also in incen­tivizing stu­dents to come to office hours.

“I did outdoor office hours last Friday. We sat on a bench outside of Lane. I told my stu­dents, you can come by and ask a question, or you can not bother with the question and just pet the dog,” she said.

Fred­ericks is easing into classes, enjoying getting familiar with the campus and the student body.

“Everyone told me coming in that the first year is the hardest, so make it as easy on yourself as you can. Pick texts you know, that you love, and get adven­turous later. That’s the advice I’ve been given, and it sounded very sen­sible at the time, and in the middle of week three it feels very sen­sible too.”